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Pat’s Run and Tillman anniversary

Posted by Darren Urban on April 22, 2017 – 6:58 am

It’s a weird morning for me. For the first time in more than a decade, I am not at ASU, getting ready to take part in Pat’s Run. I did not participate in the first race, but I had run every one since then until today, and that had been the plan (I have a bib and everything). But a trip to spend some time with my brother – which I don’t get to do enough – came up, and sometimes, life happens.

I would’ve liked to be there, especially this year. The race falls on the anniversary of Pat Tillman’s death 13 years ago. I remember that morning – I was still a Cardinals beat writer for the East Valley Tribune – vividly. I was in the kitchen, bathrobe on, toddlers eating breakfast on a Friday when my cell phone rang. A producer I knew a little from a local station was calling to ask if I had heard that Tillman had been killed. I, like everyone, was stunned.

It was the day before the draft – that’s when the draft was still Saturday-Sunday, and the Cardinals would select Larry Fitzgerald with the third overall pick the next morning – but everyone gathered at the Cardinals’ Tempe training facility. It was supposed to be that last day before the draft, when guessing who got picked where was the topic, and instead, the organization was crushed. Former Tillman teammate Pete Kendall was asked to speak to the media, along with Michael Bidwill and Anthony Edwards. Meanwhile, Dennis Green was around but he didn’t look like he knew quite what to do – he was hired after Tillman was long gone; he had no personal connection unlike almost every other non-coach still in the organization.

These are the kind of things that are going through my head every year as Pat’s Run starts. I’m sorry I’m going to miss it.


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Fitzgerald, the 2004 draft and what if

Posted by Darren Urban on April 21, 2017 – 11:02 am

“What if” is a staple of sports. It doesn’t matter if it’s a particular play, game, season or transaction, hindsight is everywhere. ESPN.com played the game recently, posting a “What If” draft moment for each team. For the Cardinals, it was an obvious but solid choice: What if the Cardinals had drafted Adrian Peterson over Levi Brown in 2007. That’s also a game all of us have played over and over, almost since that time.

My “What If” Cardinals draft moment creates a lot more debate, but it’s one that is fascinating to deconstruct. It also gives no clear answer, unlike Peterson/Brown. What if the Cardinals had drafted Ben Roethlisberger instead of Larry Fitzgerald in 2004?

First, the obvious. Fitz is the face of this franchise, and has been for many years. He’s beloved by the fans, and by ownership. He’s been a Hall of Fame football player. There is no angle in which you can say the Cardinals made the wrong decision by selecting Fitzgerald. He helped the Cardinals get to a Super Bowl (and it can be argued he basically carried them there.)

But again, what if?

Dennis Green wanted Fitz. The former coach laid the groundwork for taking the wide receiver anywhere he could, at one point emphasizing how athletic and talented incumbent but inexperienced quarterback Josh McCown was. Remember, this was 2004, a season before the Cardinals brought Kurt Warner in as really the only team in the NFL still willing to give Warner a shot at starting.

When Fitz was taken third overall, Eli Manning was already off the board, but Roethlisberger and Philip Rivers were still on the board. I think the Cards would’ve taken Big Ben had they gone QB (but what if it had been Rivers – would the Giants had taken Big Ben, traded him to the Chargers for Eli, and then Roethlisberger was a Charger?)

If Roethlisberger had been a Cardinal instead of Fitz, Warner never comes to Arizona. The Cardinals did have Anquan Boldin coming off his huge rookie season, and he would have remained the Cards’ No. 1 receiver – and with no Fitz, he probably never has contract issues and sticks around. Would Denny still have stalled out as coach with Big Ben? Even if he did, and was fired, would Ken Whisenhunt – who as OC of the Steelers wouldn’t have had Roethlisberger to lead them to a Super Bowl win in 2005 – still be a hot coaching commodity to be hired by the Cardinals?

Would the Cards have found a way to the Super Bowl in 2008, and if they had, would they have seen the Ben-less Steelers? The Cardinals also wouldn’t have drafted Matt Leinart in 2006, and it’s hard to know exactly where Fitzgerald would have ended up in 2004.

What makes the Fitz draft choice so smart in hindsight is that the Cardinals have been able to bring in two veterans in for little – Warner and Carson Palmer – and have them play very well in Arizona. The Cards haven’t turned into the Browns, constantly searching for a quarterback – making a 2004 miss more of a lament.

Still, what if?


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No waiting for 2018 QB class

Posted by Darren Urban on April 19, 2017 – 2:14 pm

There are lots of question marks about the top quarterbacks in this year’s draft, and lots of enticing names at quarterback that could/should be available in the draft class of 2018. For a team like the Cardinals, who still have Carson Palmer, it’s a question that percolates: Might it be better to spend draft capital in 2017 on immediate non-QB help and plan to go after a quarterback in 2018.

Nope.

“You can look ahead and say there are two or three that we have watched on tape that are fantastic,” General Manager Steve Keim said of the potential 2018 QB class. “But if they are (picked) one, two or three in the draft, and I hope we are not picking anything but (number) 32, how are we going to get up there and get them? Even if we had 11 comp picks, that is not going to get it done.”

Therein lies the biggest problem with any team thinking they can wait. A quality QB is going in the top 5 or top 10. The NFL doesn’t do tanking like the NBA. The sure things in the draft are harder to know than in other sports. So the Cardinals are going to be prepared to draft a QB this year, and actually have a good situation to train one if they do.

Now a) that does not mean the Cardinals will definitely draft a quarterback or b) that they wouldn’t still look at QB next year or even c) that they wouldn’t take a franchise QB talent next year if one were to be there even if they did draft one this year. This is all a year-to-year proposition, folks. Because of that, QB is on the table in 2017, regardless of what better might be there in 2018.

“I just don’t think you can rely on that,” Keim said. “If you have a player you fell in love with, you take them.”


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Schedule coming Thursday — finally, a London date

Posted by Darren Urban on April 18, 2017 – 2:43 pm

Many have asked, and now we know for sure — the NFL is releasing the regular-season schedule on Thursday (April 20) at 5 p.m. Arizona time. Here at azcardinals.com we will have it all covered, from the actual dates to a printable schedule to a very cool video (you’ll have to check it out.)

The opponents are, of course, known. Dates are not. So the biggest news for the Cardinals Thursday will be the reveal of their London game against the Rams. It’s long been known the game was either going to be Oct. 22 or 29 but it has yet to be announced for some reason. It will be out there Thursday, so people can make plans to go across the pond if they so choose.

Bruce Arians has already said the Cardinals plan to fly out on a Monday night to London, so I’m expecting the game before London to be at University of Phoenix Stadium. The Cards are also expected to get their bye the weekend after London.


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Meghan Johnson is David’s wife – and critic

Posted by Darren Urban on April 18, 2017 – 9:28 am

There is little question David Johnson is his own harshest critic. As he was setting records a season again, the running back constantly talked about what he didn’t do right or what he needed to improve. To be fair, coach Bruce Arians did the same, but Johnson — with more than 2,000 yards from scrimmage and 20 touchdowns — stuck it to himself often.

One example: Johnson noted his biggest weakness. “Mainly get better at pass protection. I definitely missed a lot of blocks … definitely hurt Carson (Palmer), got him sacked or made him rush the throw.”

Apparently, his wife Meghan — who had a role in the Amazon series “All or Nothing” — has “helped” him in that process.

“B.A. is hard on me, my wife is hard on me, everyone is hard on me,” Johnson said with a smile.

How is your wife hard on you?

“She’s always the one telling me I had a fumble, or I missed some catches,” Johnson said. “She’s learning. That’s what happened. She’s learning football, so now she’s able to talk to me about the plays I missed. We talk about it all the time.”

To be fair, Johnson said Meghan does praise him. “She’s my biggest supporter,” he said. “But she knows me. I’m always trying to see what I mess up on and she’ll let me know.”


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Tragedy for former Cardinal Heap

Posted by Darren Urban on April 15, 2017 – 8:05 am

It is difficult to wrap one’s head around the tragedy that happened Friday, when former Cardinal tight end and Arizona State star Todd Heap accidentally hit his 3-year-old daughter in a driveway, killing her. It’s a terrible situation for any family to endure.

A statement from the Cardinals released Saturday morning:

“Our hearts go out to Todd, Ashley and the Heap family. It is a grief that is beyond words and one which no family should ever experience. Hopefully the prayers, love and support of their incredible group of friends and family provide them comfort that along with their strong faith will lead them through this unspeakably difficult time.”

Heap was a first-round pick of the Baltimore Ravens in 2001, playing there through 2010. He was with the Cardinals in 2011 and 2012.


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Blandino resignation an interesting twist

Posted by Darren Urban on April 14, 2017 – 10:26 am

So the news came down Friday morning — seemingly out of nowhere — that Dean Blandino was stepping down as the NFL’s VP of officiating. He will reportedly join a network as an analyst. But his departure will make for an interesting path here for the league and the officials. Blandino was just in Phoenix a couple weeks ago for the NFL owners meetings, explaining some of the rules changes at a press conference. One of the moves for this season was changing replay — not only making it so officials will view replay challenges on a tablet on the field instead of a screen on the sideline under a hood, but also so that the final decision on replay will now come from the centralized location in New York and not the on-site referree. Blandino, as VP, was supposed to be one of the few people that would be making these important decisions.

Now, Blandino — who had been pushing for such a change — is gone.

Who moves into that role will be under scrutiny. Blandino was generally considered solid at his job, although there are plenty of people who don’t like how officiating has gone (something tells me that will always be an issue, however) and there have certainly been plenty of officiating controversies the last few seasons.


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Cardinals feel loss after passing of Steelers’ Rooney

Posted by Darren Urban on April 13, 2017 – 1:57 pm

Because they are two of the oldest franchises in the NFL with ownership that has been in the same families for decades, they has always been a tie between the teams. They actually merged for a season (in 1944 because of the war) and of course matched up in the Cardinals’ lone Super Bowl appearance for Super Bowl XLIII.

That’s one of the reasons the passing of Steelers owner Dan Rooney Thursday was felt around the Cardinals — not to mention that Rooney was one of the most beloved owners across the league.

“This is an incredibly sad day and profound loss for all of us who had the pleasure and privilege of knowing Dan Rooney,” Cardinals president Michael Bidwill said in a statement. “Mr. Rooney’s love for the Steelers, their players and their fans was apparent to everyone, as was the tremendous pride he took when he was appointed U.S. Ambassador to his beloved Ireland. But all of that was exceeded by the love and deep devotion he had for Patricia and their wonderful family. Our thoughts are certainly with the Rooneys, their entire organization, and all of Steeler Nation upon the passing of this remarkable man.”

Cardinals coach Bruce Arians tweeted out his sentiments, after coaching with the Steelers for a number of years before coming to Arizona.

The Steelers were also the opponent in the first game at University of Phoenix Stadium in August of 2006, when Dan Rooney (second from left) posed with (from left) Michael Bidwill, Bill Bidwill and Art Rooney II.


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QB for later or another player now?

Posted by Darren Urban on April 12, 2017 – 12:00 pm

When I was covering the Cardinals for the East Valley Tribune, the team held the 10th overall selection in the draft. There was much talk about whether the team might take a quarterback of the future. Kurt Warner was, after all, getting older and was only OK in 2005. The Cards had signed a big-name running back in Edgerrin James, however, and Kurt — understandably — wanted to see the Cards go in a different direction with an eye on maybe reaching a Super Bowl.

“What’s the best way to do that?” Warner said at the time. “Not to take a guy who’s going to take over my job. Go get somebody who can help us next year.”

(The Cardinals drafted Matt Leinart. Leinart was inserted for Warner early in 2006 at QB. Then Leinart struggled in 2007, Warner got his job back, and eventually, Warner got his Super Bowl trip regardless.)

It’s not always an easy decision. Heck, it’s hard for a team needing a QB right now sometimes to pull the trigger in the draft — see the Browns, who desperately need a quarterback yet are likely to take defensive lineman Myles Garrett with the first pick instead, because there isn’t an Andrew Luck available. That decision gets that much harder for a team like the Cardinals, who have Carson Palmer in place and will sit any quarterback they might draft in 2017. Meanwhile, if the Cards want to gear up for a potential run this season, with the clock ticking on Palmer and Larry Fitzgerald, finding an immediate impact guy (on defense) makes a lot of sense with the first-round pick.

Still, the glaring long-term need for a quarterback doesn’t go away.

The Cardinals are in a good spot with Palmer. He is willing to mentor a young quarterback. He’s made that clear recently, and said the same back in 2014, when he still knew he was going to play a few more years.

“I know I’m not going to play forever,” Palmer said at the time. “It’s hard for us players to admit that. The older you get the harder it is to admit it. You don’t see it happening. You still feel good, you still feel confident, you still feel healthy. But that’s the reality. That’s the business. It doesn’t matter how you feel about it, whether it irks you or you don’t care. That’s the game.”

The first round, and the 13th pick, await.


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Revisiting Fitz and the 2008 playoffs

Posted by Darren Urban on April 10, 2017 – 3:55 pm

In case you missed it, a project I have been working on since the end of the season came to fruition today with the posting of an oral history of Larry Fitzgerald’s huge 2008 playoff run. (Easy to find at azcardinals.com/fitzfantasticfour, so tell a friend). It was great to talk to a few guys that I hadn’t in a number of years, guys who I worked with a lot back when they were around. Steve Breaston, Jerheme Urban, Todd Haley, among others. It didn’t hurt that there are still some in the building that could help, like Freddie Kitchens, Adrian Wilson and Larry Foote.

(And I’d be remiss without pointing out that Sandy McAfee here in the cubicle next to me did a fantastic job taking my words and turning it into a aesthetically beautiful read.)

Mostly though, it was a chance to look back at those games. I’m fortunate enough to have that playoff run on DVD so I could go back for research and simply enjoy re-watching those games. (I’ll admit, I’m a sucker for watching old games. I wish NFL Network would do more from when I was first getting into the game, the late ’70s and early ’80s.) Anyone can understand that Fitzgerald had great stats from that postseason. But his impact looks greater than that when you are watching them in context.

“There were a lot of games where he had a lot of catches (that season),” quarterback Kurt Warner said. “It was the nature of the catches where he really solidified how great he was, how great that run was. His numbers would have been great stacked up against anyone regardless but I think you think back to just the big play after big play after big play.”

Hope you get a chance to read it.


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